Starbucks Corp. customers loaded more than $1.5 billion onto the company’s loyalty cards this year, up 20% from last year, Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ chairman, president and CEO told analysts on Nov. 4 when announcing the company’s earnings for the fiscal fourth quarter.

“Growth in our Starbucks card business continues to accelerate at record rates,” Schultz told analysts during a teleconference, noting that nearly one in five Starbucks customers uses a loyalty card to pay for transactions.

Nearly 2 million customers to date have joined the company’s Starbucks Rewards program, and more than 1.25 million of those have reached the top “gold” level by making at least 30 purchases, Schultz said.

Starbucks introduced its rewards program in 2008 (see story). The company retooled the program earlier this year, adding the “gold” perk, which awards customers with a free drink for every 15th purchase.

In the United Kingdom participation in the Starbucks Rewards card program doubled this year compared with a year ago, Schultz said.

John Culver, Starbucks international president, told analysts Starbucks is in the process of rolling out its loyalty card program to other international markets.

Starbucks said it posted income of $278.9 million for its fiscal quarter ended Oct. 3, up 86% compared with $150 million from a year earlier. Total net revenues for the quarter increased 17.4% $2.84 billion from $2.42 billion last year. Results during the quarter were aided by an extra week occurring during the fiscal calendar.

U.S. Starbucks stores saw a 6% increase in customer traffic during the quarter compared with a year ago and each customer spent 2% more on average than a year earlier. Outside the U.S., store traffic rose 4% over a year earlier and average ticket-size rose 3%.

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